Cornrows

the day before they found her baby tucked
into the crawlspace beneath her home for safekeeping,
I sat on the floor in front of her:
knobbed bones of her knees dimpling my back
while she tugged my hair into cornrows,
racing stripes down my little girl skull.
I gnawed my nails to nothing
trying to keep silent with the ouch in my scalp.
sometimes it overflowed out of my mouth.
she laughed like the sound of a coke can cracking,
told me it shouldn’t hurt – she has a daughter,
and mothers understand gentleness.

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Clots

Two days after we kissed, my gums started to bleed. Every time I brushed my teeth I left the water running to hurry the blood down the drain, afraid of my mother scolding me for brushing  too hard. It was bright and alive and colored my white marble sink America in between blue toothpaste stripes.

A week after we kissed, it started coming in clots. The way blood comes when its tired. It browned around the edges, muddying my sink and the back of my mouth tasted like nails.

Nine days after we kissed, I felt the tips of my wisdom teeth crack my gums. I thought that meant you taught me something. I was a woman in a new way. In a bloody way. Because it wasn’t nine days, it was twelve years. And it wasn’t kissing, it was your big hands under my Easter dress.

You taught me that serving your country entitled you to serve yourself. You taught me that pretty things wrinkle more easily. You taught me mens hands smell like topsoil. You taught me how to drink moonshine out of Dasani bottles and how to appreciate claw-machine jewelry.

I spent thirteen years searching for the first line of this poem at the bottom of freezer kept bottles of Grey Goose. A splash of water and a lemon and two more drinks and then the patio for a cigarette.

You taught me not to wear dresses. You taught me that physical affection is different between fathers and daughters. You taught me that good men provide for their families. You taught me how to clean my plate. You taught me how to cry when I have my own daughter, and how to cry again when I tell her why her grandfather isn’t in my wedding pictures.

I wrote a poem about how soldiers always keep their fingernails clean. It’s about writing about things you know. It’s about keeping your hips still. It’s about tucking your Easter dress into the brushfire.

You taught me how to keep my tongue clean. That getting your wisdom teeth doesn’t make you wise and bleeding from your mouth and crotch doesn’t make you a woman.

You taught me that it’s alright for your boots to be wet, but always wear a dry pair of socks.